Legendary for its political neutrality Switzerland is a small country tucked away in the Alps bordered by France, Italy, Austria and Germany. Switzerland is famed for amongst other things its delectable chocolate, its characteristic cheese, its cuckoo clocks and of course the Swiss army knife. Boasting some of the worlds most exclusive ski resorts such as Zermatt and St Moritz and hosting the UN in Geneva Switzerland is a country which certainly belies its size in terms of variety, charms and class.
Although Switzerland is relatively expensive and some see it as quite an elite holiday resort it can provide a very unique and satisfying trip if your funds will stretch to it. Most popular in the winter for its skiing, Switzerland is still a viable destination all year round.
- Currency: Swiss Franc (Sfr) = 100 rappen or centimes
- Time Zone: GMT +1
- Language: German, French, Italian, English
- Telephone Services: Country code +41, International access code 00
- Emergency Numbers: Police 117, Fire 118, Ambulance 144
The substantial altitude variations in the Alps cause the climate to vary quite dramatically in Switzerland. The higher Alpine regions are quite cold whilst the lower lying area to the North has higher temperatures and can have reasonably warm summers.
Things to see and do
Bern, Switzerland’s capital city is a small but beautifully preserved medieval city earning it the honour of being a UNESCO World Heritage site. Travellers can find here such attractions as Einstein’s house where he developed his theory of relativity, the Kunstmuseam which is a museum of fine art and the Swiss Alpine museum. Bern is also an excellent place to shop with over 6km of covered arcades literally full of shops.
Zurich is one of the world’s financial centres and is Switzerland’s biggest city. Although not hugely popular with backpackers there are a few things that are worth seeing here. Probably one of the most enjoyable is the Lindt & Sprüngli chocolate factory which features an interesting museum and of course some free samples of the world famous Lindt chocolate. Another fairly unique site is the Museum Rietberg which is home to an extensive collection of African and Asian artefacts.
Geneva is Switzerland’s most cosmopolitan city and is the home to many international organisations such as the UN, the World Health Organisation and the Red Cross. By far the biggest draw here is the Red Cross museum which carries exhibits ranging from its founding right up to the modern day. Another unique site is the CERN particle accelerator. This 27km long accelerator is home to the largest particle physics lab in the world. There is a science exhibition open to visitors although this may only appeal to the more technologically minded.
Basle is a major commercial centre and is situated right on the border with France and Germany. This is Switzerland’s second largest town and has one of the most picturesque cobbled old town in Switzerland. The Baslermünster is a sizeable medieval cathedral with a tower which offers the best views of Basel and the surrounding Black Forest.
The Swiss rail service is extraordinarily efficient; most of the network is operated by SBB who accept Eurail and Interail on all of their trains. SBB also offer a travel pass of their own which is valid not only on the rail network but also on the bus network. Available online from railkey.com this pass will allow unlimited travel for between 4 days and 1 month. There is also a flexi-pass on offer which is substantially cheaper and allows between 3 and 8 days of travel within one month. Both passes offer discounts for those under 25.
Although the railways provide the backbone of the travel system this is supplemented by postbuses. These yellow buses run connecting routes between stations and towns with no rail access. There are over 650 routes and a Swiss rail pass will let you use these buses for free.
Hotels are generally of high quality and in high demand. You will normally have to book in advance and most hotels can be quite pricey even at the low end of the market. A youth hostel is far more advisable method of accommodation for the budget traveller. Again accommodation is quite frequently in demand so it is best to try and arrange accommodation at least 5 days in advance. Most hostels offer discounts to anyone holding cards of national organisations associated to the International Youth Hostels Federation. A list of all officially recognised youth hostels can be found at Switzerland tourism.
The health service is generally good in Switzerland but make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance especially as transport costs could mount up if you are struck ill or are involved in an accident in some of the more remote parts of Switzerland.
There are no vaccinations required before visiting Switzerland and the tap water is considered safe to drink. Normal precautions should be taken with food but restaurants and hotels are normally of very high quality.
The Switzerland Tourist Office provides official tourist information for visitors.
SBB operate the main rail network.
Postbuses are an easy way to get around outside of the rail network.
TheSwissTour offers a unique, non-profit tour through Switzerland in April 2009.